Standby: Here Come The Drones

Pilsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman –

The wait is over for businesses across the United States eager to fly small drones (also known as small unmanned aircraft systems or sUAS).  The new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rule regarding commercial operation of sUAS, known as Part 107, is now in effect.  Part 107 opens the door to commercial sUAS flights that meet certain criteria, avoiding the need for each business to get FAA approval.

In a press conference, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta hailed the new rule as a transformational advancement in aviation policy while ensuring safety.  The FAA forecasts as many as 600,000 drones to be operating under the new rule within the year.

Part 107 sUAS Commercial Operations

Part 107 provides broad authority to operate many commercial sUAS operations without individualized permission from the FAA. Commercial operators of sUAS (weighing 55 lbs. or less) will no longer need to petition for a Section 333 exemption, so long as the operator follows the requirements of Part 107, including:

  • Maintaining Visual Line of Sight with the sUAS at all times;
  • Operating at a maximum speed of 100 mph;
  • Operating during daytime hours;
  • Operating at a maximum altitude of 400 feet or within 400 feet of a structure;
  • Operating in uncontrolled airspace or controlled airspace with air traffic approval; and
  • No operations over non-participants.

Remote Pilot Certificate Testing Begins

Part 107 also creates a new credential specifically for UAS pilots, known as the remote pilot certificate.  Applicants for the new remote pilot certificate must be at least 16 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, and receive vetting by the Transportation Security Administration.  The first tests for the new pilot certificate are now being administered at FAA-approved knowledge testing centers.

FAA Issues First Waivers Under New Rule

As Part 107 takes effect, the FAA also marks the beginning of the waiver process for operations outside the parameters of Part 107.  The FAA established a portal on its website accepting applications from commercial operators who want to fly outside the scope of Part 107, such as flights beyond visual line of sight, night time operations, operations above non-participants, speed and altitude limitations, operations of multiple sUAS, and operations in certain airspace.   The FAA will individually review waiver requests and approve operations demonstrated to be safe.

The FAA also announced that some current Section 333 exemption holders have already received waivers under the new regime.  The FAA issued 72 waivers to operators to fly at night and other waivers related to operations beyond visual line of sight and over people.

The Future of UAS

Part 107 is an important advancement in the FAA’s comprehensive plan to integrate UAS of all types into the National Airspace System.  The FAA is expected to develop and implement rules for other categories of UAS, including micro UAS (smaller than 4.4 pounds) and large UAS (larger than 55 pounds).  The FAA also announced the establishment of a safety committee to help identify safety issues UAS pose to manned aircraft and a drone advisory committee to develop rules for operations beyond the line of sight.


Graham Keithley, Chris Leuchten, Kenneth Quinn and Jennifer Trock advise in Pillsbury’s Aviation Aerospace and Transportation law practice in Washington DC.

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